Let's be honest, one of the best parts of hosting or attending a gathering is the food, right? (You obviously know where my priorities lie...ahem!) Some of my favorite party snacks growing up were cheese and veggie platters, sour cream & onion dip + potato chips, mozzarella sticks, potato skins, and canned black olives.
If I was lucky, the host (or mom if I was at a friend's house for a sleepover) would make hot cheese dip, fondly called queso for short. This always consisted of two name brand ingredients melted together in the microwave or slow cooker: a rectangle of bright orange processed "cheese" + a can of diced tomatoes with chiles.
Served with corn chips or tortilla chips, this queso dip disappeared lightning fast. And I have to admit, it was good. Okay, better than good. Frigging delicious. I loved this stuff back in the day!
Real Cheese Versus Processed Cheese in Queso Dip
Eventually (as an adult) I got the opportunity to try a queso dip made with real cheese at a Tex-Mex restaurant. I was blown away at the difference! I could tell instantly that it was made with real cheese because it had a different and more complex flavor.
Most queso dips served in restaurants across the U.S. are made with industrial canned nacho cheese or the processed cheese product that I mentioned above, so it tastes the same every single time. That's the thing about real food recipes...they use seasonal, fresh, and/or less processed ingredients so the taste is never exactly the same.
I've been seeking out the good (real) stuff at restaurants ever since. Are they few and far between? Yes, but so worth it! Cause once you have a creamy cheese dip with real food ingredients, the canned stuff just doesn't compare.
Spice Up Your Game Day (or Party) Spread with Easy Queso DipOf course, I grew tired of relying on restaurants for my queso fix, so I decided to experiment with my own homemade queso recipe. This is "game day" season, after all, which gives me an excuse to try new appetizer recipes. And trust me, my concept artist boyfriend doesn't mind either! (He was the hand model for these photographs and even took the very last one.)
After consulting the Joy of Cooking + a slew of queso recipes across the internet that actually used real cheese (the V word is rampant), I whittled it down to a combination of ingredients that sounded good to me and prepared to give it a go.
Homemade Queso Is Made With Simple Ingredients
One thing that made me happy about this homemade queso recipe (that I'm sure you'll appreciate) is that it doesn't require any fancy ingredients. They're all easy to find and fairly inexpensive.
I had most of them at home already, then grabbed the rest--Old El Paso™ chopped green chiles, fire-roasted diced tomatoes, two types of block cheese (grass-fed sharp cheddar and jalapeno jack), a lime, a poblano pepper + jalapeno pepper (a.k.a. chiles), and organic corn tortilla chips--at my local Albertsons grocery store here in Dallas.
What does this mean? Good things! If you've got 30 minutes (or less) to spare, you can make a delicious, from-scratch queso dip at home. No need to rely on the jarred or canned stuff! And the best part? Your guests will happily gobble it up and you can feel good about feeding them delicious snacks with real food ingredients.
How to Make Homemade Queso Dip: It's Much Easier Than You'd Think
The basic technique for making a creamy homemade cheese dip or sauce is to start with a roux (cooking fat + thickener), slowly stir in a creamy liquid (milk, half & half, or heavy whipping cream), then even more slowly stir in small amounts of shredded cheese until everything is melted and silky smooth. Essentially, you're creating a bechamel sauce (basic white sauce) then adding cheese + other mix-ins for extra flavor. Very easy stuff!
If you've ever made a creamy homemade gravy this is a very similar process, but actually quicker. In this case, the cheese will quickly help to thicken the sauce into a dip, whereas gravy takes about 10-15 minutes to reduce and thicken up on the stove top with no added ingredients except seasonings.
TIP: Because making queso is such a quick process, make sure to prep and cook (if necessary) all the other ingredients first. This way there's no room for any distractions that'll allow the roux to burn, bechamel to curdle, or cheese to become clumpy/oily/stringy while you're trying to multitask in the kitchen.
Flavoring Queso Dip: Room For Lots of Variation
Once you stir in and melt all the cheese, you essentially have a basic queso (cheese) dip. However, the queso that we (as Americans) know and love, generally includes chiles and tomatoes + seasonings, as well. Technically this is called chile con queso (cheese with chiles); however we normally just refer to it by its shortened version: queso.
The final flavor of your homemade queso depends on the types of cheeses, add-ins, and seasoning you use. In my case, I added cooked onion, mild chiles (poblano & jalapeno), garlic, fire-roasted tomatoes, cumin, chile powder, and sea salt to give the queso a balanced flavor.
You could easily add more chiles to make it spicier or more seasonings to give it a punch. I also used a brand of sharp cheddar with a strong taste, so that gave the queso a unique background flavor in combination with pepper jack + cream cheese for added creaminess. Want a more mild flavor? Use a mild cheddar or Monterey jack cheese instead! There are lots of options for you to make it your own! :)
I'd like to hear from YOU!
Do you have a favorite queso dip or an awesome appetizer recipe you like to serve or eat at gatherings?
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Albertsons. The opinions and text are all mine.